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- Hypatia - 20/97 -
I started! .... How am I to get free from that heathen Siren? Plagues on her! I shall end by falling in love with her .... I don't know that I have not got a barb of the blind boy in me already. I felt absurdly glad the other day when that fool told me he dare not accept her modest offer. Ha! ha! A delicious joke it would have been to have seen Orestes bowing down to stocks and stones, and Hypatia installed in the ruins of the Serapeium, as High Priestess of the Abomination of Desolation!. And now .... Well I call all heaven and earth to witness, that I have fought valiantly. I have faced naughty little Eros like a man, rod in hand. What could a poor human being do more than try to marry her to some one else, in hopes of sickening himself of the whole matter? Well, every moth has its candle, and every man his destiny. But the daring of the little fool! What huge imaginations she has! She might be another Zenobia, now, with Orestes as Odenatus, and Raphael Aben-Ezra to play the part of Longinus. and receive Longinus's salary of axe or poison. She don't care for me; she would sacrifice me, or a thousand of me, the cold-blooded fanatical archangel that she is, to water with our blood the foundation of some new temple of cast rags and broken dolls .... Oh, Raphael Aben-Ezra, what a fool you are! .... You know you are going off as usual to her lecture, this very morning!'
At this crisis of his confessions the page entered, and announced, not the bath, but Miriam.
The old woman, who, in virtue of her profession, had the private entry of all fashionable chambers in Alexandria, came in hurriedly; and instead of seating herself as usual, for a gossip, remained standing, and motioned the boy out of the room.
'Well my sweet mother? Sit: Ah? I see! You rascal, you have brought in no wine for the lady. Don't you know her little ways yet?'
'Eos has got it at the door, of course,' answered the boy, with a saucy air of offended virtue.
'Out with you, imp of Satan!' cried Miriam. 'This is no time for winebibbing. Raphael Aben-Ezra, why are you lying here? Did you not receive a note last night?'
'A note? So I did, but I was too sleepy to read it. There it lies. Boy, bring it here....What's this? A scrap out of Jeremiah? "Arise, and flee for thy life, for evil is determined against the whole house of Israel!"--Does this come from the chief rabbi; I always took the venerable father for a sober man .... Eh, Miriam?'
'Fool! instead of laughing at the sacred words of the prophets, get up and obey them. I sent you the note.'
'Why can't I obey them in bed? Here I am, reading hard at the Cabbala, or Philo--who is stupider still--and what more would you have?'
The old woman, unable to restrain her impatience, literally ran at him, gnashing her teeth, and, before he was aware, dragged him out of bed upon the floor, where he stood meekly wondering what would come next.
'Many thanks, mother, for having saved me the one daily torture of life--getting out of bed by one's own exertion.'
'Raphael Aben-Ezra! are you so besotted with your philosophy and your heathenry, and your laziness, and your contempt for God and man, that you will see your nation given up for a prey, and your wealth plundered by heathen dogs? I tell you, Cyril has sworn that God shall do so to him, and more also, if there be a Jew left in Alexandria by to-morrow about this time.'
'So much the better for the Jews, then, if they are half as tired of this noisy Pandemonium as I am. But how can I help it? Am I Queen Esther, to go to Ahasuerus there in the prefect's palace, and get him to hold out the golden sceptre to me?'
'Fool! if you had read that note last night, you might have gone and saved us, and your name would have been handed down for ever from generation to generation as a second Mordecai.'
'My dear mother, Ahasuerus would have been either fast asleep, or far too drunk to listen to me. Why did you not go yourself?'
'Do you suppose that I would not have gone if I could? Do you fancy me a sluggard like yourself? At the risk of my life I have got hither in time, if there be time to save you.'
'Well: shall I dress? What can be done now?'
'Nothing! The streets are blockaded by Cyril's mob--There! do you hear the shouts and screams? They are attacking the farther part of the quarter already.'
'What! are they murdering them?' asked Raphael, throwing on his pelisse. 'Because, if it has really come to a practical joke of that kind, I shall have the greatest pleasure in employing a counter- irritant. Here, boy! My sword and dagger! Quick!'
'No, the hypocrites! No blood is to be shed, they say, if we make no resistance, and let them pillage. Cyril and his monks are there, to prevent outrage, and so forth.... The Angel of the Lord scatter them!'
The conversation was interrupted by the rushing in of the whole household, in an agony of terror; and Raphael, at last thoroughly roused, went to a window which looked into the street. The thoroughfare was full of scolding women and screaming children; while men, old and young, looked on at the plunder of their property with true Jewish doggedness, too prudent to resist, but too manful to complain--while furniture came flying out of every window, and from door after door poured a stream of rascality, carrying off money, jewels, silks, and all the treasures which Jewish usury had accumulated during many a generation. But unmoved amid the roaring sea of plunderers and plundered, stood, scattered up and down, Cyril's spiritual police, enforcing, by a word, an obedience which the Roman soldiers could only have compelled by hard blows of the spear-butt. There was to be no outrage, and no outrage there was: and more than once some man in priestly robes hurried through the crowd, leading by the hand, tenderly enough, a lost child in search of its parents.
Raphael stood watching silently, while Miriam, who had followed him upstairs, paced the room in an ecstasy of rage, calling vainly to him to speak or act.
'Let me alone, mother,' he said, at last. 'It will be full ten minutes more before they pay me a visit, and in the meantime what can one do better than watch the progress of this, the little Exodus?'
'Not like that first one! Then we went forth with cymbals and songs to the Red Sea triumph! Then we borrowed, every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment.'
'And now we pay them back again;.. it is but fair, after all. We ought to have listened to Jeremiah a thousand years ago, and never gone back again, like fools, into a country to which we were so deeply in debt.'
'Accursed land!' cried Miriam. 'In an evil hour our forefathers disobeyed the prophet; and now we reap the harvest of our sins!--Our sons have forgotten the faith of their forefathers for the philosophy of the Gentiles, and fill their chambers' (with a contemptuous look round) 'with heathen imagery; and our daughters are--Look there!'
As she spoke, a beautiful girl rushed shrieking out of an adjoining house, followed by some half-drunk ruffian, who was clutching at the gold chains and trinkets with which she was profusely bedecked, after the fashion of Jewish women. The rascal had just seized with one hand her streaming black tresses, and with the other a heavy collar of gold, which was wound round her throat, when a priest, stepping up, laid a quiet hand upon his shoulder. The fellow, too maddened to obey, turned, and struck back the restraining arm...and in an instant was felled to the earth by a young monk. .
'Touchest thou the Lord's anointed, sacrilegious wretch?' cried the man of the desert, as the fellow dropped on the pavement, with his booty in his hand.
The monk tore the gold necklace from his grasp, looked at it for a moment with childish wonder, as a savage might at some incomprehensible product of civilised industry, and then, spitting on it in contempt, dashed it on the ground, and trampled it into the mud.
'Follow the golden wedge of Achan, and the silver of Iscariot, thou root of all evil!' And he rushed on, yelling, 'Down with the circumcision! Down with the blasphemers!'--while the poor girl vanished among the crowd.
Raphael watched him with a quaint thoughtful smile, while Miriam shrieked aloud at the destruction of the precious trumpery.
'The monk is right, mother. If those Christians go on upon that method, they must beat us. It has been our ruin from the first, our fancy for loading ourselves with the thick clay.'
'What will you do?' cried Miriam, clutching him by the arm.
'What will you do?'
'I am safe. I have a boat waiting for me on the canal at the garden gate, and in Alexandria I stay; no Christian hound shall make old Miriam move afoot against her will. My jewels are all buried--my girls are sold; save what you can, and come with me!'
'My sweet mother, why so peculiarly solicitous about my welfare, above that of all the sons of Judah?'
'Because--because--No, I'll tell you that another time. But I loved your mother, and she loved me. Come!'
Raphael relapsed into silence for a few minutes, and watched the tumult below.
'How those Christian priests keep their men in order! There is no use resisting destiny. They are the strong men of the time, after all, and the little Exodus must needs have its course. Miriam, daughter of Jonathan--'
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